The political system introduced by Viktor Orbán never ceases to fascinate analysts and observers. Earlier we spent a considerable amount of time discussing Bálint Magyar’s theory of the post-communist mafia state. Dozens of political scientists, sociologists, economists, media experts, and legal scholars wrote articles on different aspects of Viktor Orbán’s mafia state, describing the way it functions. Although in the last few years other analysts have offered views on the nature of the Orbán regime from various angles, legal and psychological, it was only Magyar’s mafia-state theory that stuck and became widely accepted.
The new book by Rudolf Ungváry will most likely be a serious challenge to The Hungarian Octopus: The Post Communist Mafia State. Ungváry contends that the two edited volumes on the mafia state provide merely “a sociological description” of the Orbán system. Only “the economic criminality of the system is captured, not its essence.”
So, what is the essence of Orbán’s system according to Ungváry? As the subtitle of the book suggests, it is “a fascistoid mutation.” (Rudolf Ungváry: A láthatatlan valóság: A fasisztoid mutáció a mai Magyarországon/The Invisible Reality: Fascistoid Mutation in Today’s Hungary [Pozsony/Bratislava: Kalligram, 2014])
Before the appearance of this book, only two commentators called Fidesz a fascist party, pure and simple. One was the linguist László Kálmán, who wrote an article in October 2010 on a rarely visited internet site in which, after briefly describing the three or four essential elements of Italian fascism, he stated that “Fidesz in the past fifteen years has been a fascist party par excellence.” The other was László Bartus, editor-in-chief of Amerikai-Magyar Népszava. I might add here that in September 2010 I wrote an article for Galamus in which I compared the ideas of Viktor Orbán to those of Gyula Gömbös, prime minister of Hungary between 1933 and 1936, and talked about the similarities of the present Hungarian political system to that of Gömbös, which itself was a mutation of Italian fascism. But Ungváry is right, references to the fascist elements in Orbán’s system did not prompt serious debate.
Ungváry argues that without antecedents the present system could not have been developed. “The system is successful because the Hungarian political culture of the extreme right before World War II has been reborn in a different guise. It pretends to be something else. It uses the instruments of liberal democracy to mask itself.” Ungváry lists four “surface characteristics” of the Orbán regime that “are designed to hide the real nature of the system.” Then, following the research findings of Umberto Eco, the Italian philosopher, and Hans Mommsen, the German historian of Nazi Germany, he concentrates on the “eight essential characteristics of fascism.”
The most misleading characteristic of this mutation is the democratic “gloss” that covers the fascistoid structure. Democratic institutions have remained, although they have lost their function. The role of opposition parties is to ensure the appearance of democracy. Behind that gloss Ungváry sees the hidden structures of the system that make the regime a mutation of the original.
As for the essential characteristics of the system. (1) There is no declared “guiding principle.” The Leader is not named. There is no Hungarian Führer, Duce, Caudillo, not even Nemzetvédő. He is only “Viktor! Viktor!” Yet he is the supreme leader. With those who don’t question his leading role he is patient, but his political opponents are considered to be enemies and aliens. (2) Although the “cult of strength” is present, there are no brutal reprisals. Intimidation is indirect, but it is always present in Orbán’s speeches. (3) Loyalty is one of the guiding principles, but again it is not written down anywhere. The socialist system also demanded loyalty, in its case to the party. The Orbán system of loyalty is based on personal networks that are typical of fascistoid regimes. At the top of the pyramid stands the Leader himself. (4) Within the system there is seeming chaos but this chaos is actually organized. Those who are faithful to the leader have a fair amount of power, but for those who are suspect there is no mercy. For example, more than half of the civil servants were fired. There is no “class warfare”; the fight is with banks and multinationals. (5) Every important state institution is in the hands of “their own men.” (6) One of the most typical characteristics of the system is its “more neutral selection of those to be excluded.” In communism this ingredient of the system was pretty straightforward; it was based on class. In Nazi Germany it was “race.” In Orbán’s system the targets are those “who don’t belong to us.” They are the ones who are stripped of their banks, their pensions, their land, and so on. This is the third time in a century that wealth has been redistributed. In order to give to those who are “ours” they must take away from others. (7) The groups who are targeted can vary depending on the needs of the regime. It is flexible in this respect. (8) In order to ensure the followers’ loyalty and enthusiasm for the regime, it is necessary to stir up passion and conflicts. In Hungarian this is called the “politics of grievances”; it also entails the rewriting of history.
These essential characteristics of Orbán’s fascistoid mutation are critical to understanding the rest of Ungváry’s treatise, about which more tomorrow.
A few words about Rudolf Ungváry. He is a real polyhistor. He is a mechanical engineer by training but is known as a writer, journalist, film critic, and librarian. In 1956 he was an engineering student and because of his activities was interned in Kistarcsa. In 1958-59 he worked as an iron turner, after which he was allowed to return to university. Since 1983 he has been a research associate at the Széchényi (National) Library. He considers himself a conservative in the classical sense of the word.
Tomorrow I will turn to Ungváry’s thorough analysis of the present fascistoid system and how Hungary ended up here.